With the acquisition of The Goose, a college watering hole at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant, Jay Bianchi has finally extended his Grateful Dead-inspired bar empire into (The People’s Republic of) Boulder, Colorado. Known as The Goose since 2008, the bar is undergoing modest yet incremental transformations. Bianchi is currently booking bands on the patio under the moniker “Owsley’s Presents at The Goose,” with plans to re-brand the bar into Owsley’s Golden Road in May. This is while staying open to the public, of course, because the show must go on.
“I always wanted to have a place in Boulder, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it with being here all of the time, or a certain amount of the time. It seems like Quixote’s and Sancho’s are settled enough that I can spend time here. One of the cool things about being down here are the shows. We do shows from seven to eleven P.M. so more during the day, and I can be here at seven, settle the show, and still go back to Quixote’s and finish up there.”
Jay and his brothers opened the original Quixote’s True Blue in 1996, a year after the death of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The sense of adventure in traveling the country to see Grateful Dead shows bizarrely parallels Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quixote. Through a blend of the Bianchi Brothers’ love of the band and their late-father’s admiration for Don Quixote, a new concept was born and has been growing for some time.
“My dad always liked Don Quixote; he named his old GMC truck Rocinante (Quixote’s horse). I kind of had that in my head and I thought about Don Quixote, and how he traveled all across the land checking out stuff. It kind of had the same resonance as going to Dead shows and traveling across the land and all that. It’s in the spirit of adventure to keep making everyday extraordinary-an adventure in every day-instead of subscribing to the societal norms where there’s no real imagination.”
After 19 years of seeing success and innovation come hand in hand with relocations and closures, Jay feels the time is right to tap into the collective love of music in Boulder. The minor fix-up is starting to resemble the counterculture vibe of its Denver predecessors, but Jay understands that too much too fast can be a culture shock for the regulars drinking pitchers and playing corn hole under the sun.
“I think they’re going to see it as a fun place; music is such a fun thing. I think they’re going to learn some new music, and for stuff that they had blinders on to before, they’re going to see it and it’s going to open their eyes. I think there will be some resistance and some people that’ll just say, ‘fuck that, we can’t go there anymore,’ but I think a lot of the people are open minded about it. The crowd attracts the crowd and if they see a bunch of people having fun, then they’re going to come in. That’s how ladies night works in its own little way, because there’s a line out here, so everyone wants to go.”
The Goose’s longtime Tuesday night trump card, Ladies Night, wont be going anywhere in the foreseeable future, as “it doesn’t make sense to stop something that’s doing well.” Restaurant and co-tenant Fatty J’s will also be sticking around to serve pizza, wings and munchies all day and night. But what really makes a Bianchi bar is the music. Jay has and is booking bands most nights of the week, and recently installed a CD stocked jukebox that Sancho’s enthusiasts will find familiar.
“At least in the beginning I want it to be as often as possible,” Jay said on how frequent he’ll book bands. “I think music likes to be outside and sounds better outside. It helps bring people in. There’s less feedback because it’ll just be going into the air.”
Owsley’s Golden Road, though still in the early stages, is starting to take shape as a spot where Deadheads and your everyday college student can mingle inside or on the patio. Even the minors can hang during the day and feed the jukebox while shooting pool and eating Fatty J’s. While Sancho’s has always been known for bringing in Deadheads and jam band fans, their cross-market success has hinged on being directly next door to The Fillmore. Much in the same vein, Owsley’s Golden Road borders the campus of The University of Colorado and is one of the only true bars left on The Hill. So while the counterculture element will be alive and well, which is nothing new in Boulder, the rest of the populace should also be well represented.
Continue for a full transcription of Jay’s interview with the Grateful Web’s John Underwood Schumm below.
Grateful Web: What led you to start opening bars themed around the Grateful Dead and named after characters from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote?
Jay Bianchi: I didn’t really want to do a bar, because I’m not really a drinker. I wanted to do a coffee shop, or something like that, but coffee shops aren’t really conducive to dancing. I could hang out at a coffee shop and dance and have fun, but I don’t know if everybody else could. So I figured alcohol is one of those things that people rejoice and hang out with, and do community stuff with; it’s a good release. Coffee is a little stuffier.
My dad always liked Don Quixote; he named his old GMC truck Rocinante (Quixote’s horse). I kind of had that in my head and I thought about Don Quixote, and how he traveled all across the land checking out stuff. It kind of had the same resonance as going to Dead shows and traveling across the land and all that. It’s in the spirit of adventure to keep making everyday extraordinary-an adventure in every day-instead of subscribing to the societal norms where there’s no real imagination, like in doing your insurance paperwork or something like that.
GW: Did you follow the Dead around?
JB: I would say I followed them but I still kept my wits about me and stayed in school. Maybe that wasn’t smart to do (laughter), but I would fly out and see a show and come back. I didn’t fling myself into the whole thing wholeheartedly.
GW: Your brothers and yourself started the bars, correct?
GW: How many of you guys are there?
JB: I have two brothers.
GW: And do all three of you work in conjunction as far as the bars go?
JB: I’m the more adventurous one, they like to have Sancho’s, the more secure thing, and I guess I throw myself into situations in which you’re dealing with a band and there’s a different story everyday. There’s a certain predictability with Sancho’s, where you don’t have a band everyday and you just open the doors and it works. Sancho’s is such a good place that it just works everyday because The Fillmore’s next door, The Ogden is next door, and now the new 1UP is next door. It’s kind of like bands are being booked around it, so it works out that way. It’s all about the music, and music everyday. Sancho’s has the jukebox, and we just put a jukebox in here (Owsley’s/Goose), we just love music and to be around music, so Sancho’s ended up being the perfect spot for that, right next to The Fillmore.
GW: It seems like there’s always a good crowd in there.
JB: We told our real estate agent, find us something near The Fillmore, and we couldn’t imagine that the person next door to The Fillmore would sell it. But they just weren’t into hippies and it wasn’t their scene and they saw that, so they got out of there. It was a good thing. It was what, one man’s poison is another man’s…what is it?
GW: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?
JB: Yea there’s that one and the other is one man’s poison is another man’s drink, or cider or something. Anyway, I kind of forgot the question.
GW: Well we’re just rambling. It was about your brothers and yourself running the joints.
JB: Right, so I kind of go for the adventure and like to do big projects and like to almost torture myself to keep me on my toes. I always told my brother this: if I stagnate, I die, I’ve just got to keep on going even if it fucks things up a little bit sometimes.
GW: And you do keep on going. You’ve had multiple bars. You mentioned the 1UP, and that used to be Dulcinea’s Was Quixote’s the first one?
JB: Quixote’s was the first, eighteen or nineteen years ago in November of 1996, and Sancho’s came after. Then Quixote’s hopscotched across to the seven south location on Broadway and then it closed and Dulcinea’s opened and then Cervantes’ opened and then we moved Quixote’s right next to Cervantes’. Then I opened Owsley’s, which became Quixote’s, sold Cervantes’, and was also involved with The Oriental at the same time. Then I was trying to do music festivals.
GW: Right, you did one over in the five points area?
JB: That was Dancing in the Streets. So I did those and did Summer Days out in the fields. Those are always fun but they cause me turmoil too. I always wanted to have a place in Boulder, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it with being here all of the time, or a certain amount of the time. It seems like Quixote’s and Sancho’s are settled enough that I can spend time here. One of the cool things about being down here are the shows. We do shows from seven to eleven P.M. so more during the day, and I can be here at 7, settle the show, and still go back to Quixote’s and finish up there.
GW: And music at Quixote’s usually goes until what, bar close?
JB: Yeah, until two A.M.
GW: On moving into Boulder, like you were saying, what is it about it? I know Boulder has always had this strong hippy, Deadhead vibe to it. It might have changed a little bit…
JB: It has, that’s what people say. That’s what I always felt, but people tell me, ‘hey, we don’t have a hippie vibe here.’ They’re so happy that this place is here now, because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
GW: That’s true.
JB: So it’s here, but I think that maybe the bigger venues have sucked it out. All the kids go there. You talk to Dave Watts and Joey Porter (The Motet), and there’s no place to play for a smaller band. They’re in bigger bands too but on some off days that want to play too. Somehow The Fox and Boulder Theater have captured the kids but they’re not letting them go where they naturally go. They just sort of dictate that this is the day we celebrate Grateful Dead stuff, but there’s no everyday happening for that.
GW: Speaking of smaller venues, how about The B-Side Lounge back when?
JB: And the place owned by the three sisters, Trilogy.
GW: Yeah, Trilogy, and they have Shine down there now. They do some music here and there. Then there’s the Lazy Dog, and on Tuesday they do a local open jam that’s gotten pretty cool.
JB: It seems like they’re starting to pick it up.
GW: They’ve definitely picked it up. The Goose has long been known as a college hangout. Tuesday night is ladies night and it’s insane. Do you anticipate, with changing the theme of the bar and having music on most nights, that it’ll change that clientele?
JB: I’m hoping that they adapt to it. I think they’re going to see it as a fun place; music is such a fun thing. I think they’re going to learn some new music, and for stuff that they had blinders on to before, they’re going to see it and it’s going to open their eyes. I think there will be some resistance and some people that’ll just say, ‘fuck that, we can’t go there anymore,’ but I think a lot of the people are open minded about it. The crowd attracts the crowd and if they see a bunch of people having fun, then they’re going to come in. That’s how ladies night works in its own little way, because there’s a line out here, so everyone wants to go. That’s not really my thing, the ladies night. It’s such a predatory kind of night and not really my idea of what I want to do, but when I saw it I was like, well, this is kind of cool. I didn’t necessarily like the music but I could see the attraction of it, and it had a good vibe and everybody was having fun. That’s one of the times you can go, ok, cool, I’ll go delve into this for a little while. A lot of people have multiple personalities in their facet, you know? There are Deadheads that like heavy metal, they like folk, they like bluegrass, they like all of the other stuff. And when I was growing up that’s all I would listen to, the heavy metal: ACDC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, well Metallica not so much but Iron Maiden and Dio and all that other stuff. That’s where I came from, that’s my background, but I liked all music and it was a natural evolution for me to…if you really like music, it seems like you get into Grateful Dead or the jam band music in the end. And I think it used to be that people that were really into music ended up in the jazz thing, then the jazz and jam band thing…my dad ended up liking jazz, but those things are kind of conflated together.
GW: Especially in Colorado, we get all of that.
JB: And then the bluegrass picks up the pop culture too, they suck in all of that stuff. It’s all there. If people like music, they’re going to end up liking this place. Having most of the shows-the JGB show was ten bucks-but having most shows free or affordable will make it easier for them to enjoy a concert. If they’re not paying, they aren’t taking a risk. I think a lot of people don’t like to go because it’s a risk, it’s a risk of ten bucks. And it could be crappy. Or you might not like it.
GW: You really never know. People love this spot and the sunshine on the patio. How many days of the week do you plan on having bands play?
JB: At least in the beginning I want it to be as often as possible. I think music likes to be outside and sounds better outside. It helps bring people in. There’s less feedback because it’ll just be going into the air. I had a band yesterday, ladies night is tonight, Wednesday and Thursday…I’m trying to do it as much as possible.
GW: The bar is going to be The Goose until May-ish?
JB: It’s Owsley’s Presents at The Goose right now.
GW: So ladies night is something that’ll be going on until at least then I would think?
JB: It’s not going to stop; it doesn’t make sense to stop something that’s doing well unless all of the sudden the crowd totally changes and that night isn’t doing well. There’s a long way to go before that doesn’t do well. There’s no reason to get rid of it, it’s one of the best nights. It seems like this place does really well until ten, ten thirty
GW: People going to Pearl Street.
JB: Yeah, so we’ve just got to push that a little further, the time zone. And then it would be highly successful. Sunday was great. By eleven o’clock we had done what we would have done at Sancho’s on a good night with a big Fillmore show. We were doing good numbers. Even if we just do afternoon stuff until eleven, and that’s raging, that’s cool too.
GW: How did this location become available to you?
JB: I had a friend that knew the owner and said he was trying to get rid of it. He said the numbers are pretty good there so I looked into it.
GW: Were there any other spots in Boulder you were interested in?
JB: I was looking around this area, the Hill. Pearl Street just always seems to be too expensive. I like having the students right across the street. That seems to be a good market to go to and that’s what I want to do. Even though, how old are you when you start your freshman year, eighteen, nineteen? So they have to wait until sophomore or junior year. But they can come in and eat here too, so that’s one benefit, half restaurant half bar.
GW: So Fatty J’s will be sticking around?
GW: You’ve obviously started putting décor on the walls to give it more of a Sancho’s feel.
JB: Yeah we’re going to have a painting party, have some muralists come in and give it something other than the red walls. We like to fill up areas. There will be more posters and stuff in there too. I’m trying not to give everybody working here too much culture shock at once so suddenly (laughter).
GW: So some of the staff is sticking around?
JB: So far I’m keeping them all. I imagine some of them might not like it, or they’ll convert. If they like music I think they’ll stay here, and I think it’s going to be better financially for them, so I think it behooves them to stay and tough it out. Right now my big thing was putting the jukebox in, and they don’t think anybody will want to pay for a jukebox, and I’m like, we’ll stick the money in ourselves, it doesn’t matter. I just don’t want Pandora. The jukebox just seems like the most democratic way for everybody to get what they want. The bartender can put some songs on, and if a customer doesn’t like it, he can put some songs on. With Pandora it’s almost a dictatorship; the bartender puts it on and people can’t really say anything because they’re insulting the bartender. I guess the jukebox is kind of a dictatorship too, because you only have a hundred selections but people are able to suggest that I change some stuff, and it’s not static. I just brought in a bunch of cd’s because I did think we had too much Dead and too much Panic and that stuff. We slowly have to have people get the feel for what we’re doing. They’re bringing in the speakers for the jukebox for outside, so I hadn’t fully committed because we didn’t have sound outside for the jukebox, but today it’ll be in there. Yesterday we pulled out the Pandora because I’m just not going to argue with people (laughter). But it’s a process and it’s weird because people aren’t used to jukeboxes anymore. I put it in and people said, ‘wait, there are cd’s in there?’ And yeah, there are and we can change them around. It seems like one of those elementary things, but people have changed so much.
GW: I think people will like it.
JB: I do too. If someone wants to listen to a bunch of Red Hot Chili Peppers or something like that then change needs to be a little more gradual than sudden, but I have to tell them don’t play an entire album. I don’t play all Dead. You have to be fair and make it fun. It allows the customer to be the DJ for a little while, a safe DJ, if someone doesn’t like it you can just say, ‘I didn’t choose it (laughter)!’
GW: Will you have the jukebox going inside while a band is playing out here?
JB: It depends. We could do a reverse where we funnel the band inside for some shows. It might be good to have two separate zones. We’re getting the speakers out here and you can control them separately, each room separately. So when it starts cranking out here, we just turn off the jukebox.
GW: Any exciting names coming up?
JB: John K. (Kadlecik), The Golden Gate Wingmen.
GW: They’re going to be at Quixote’s, right?
JB: Yep, and the fourth day is going to be here. That’s Monday, May 25th, Memorial Weekend. They weren’t sure about it, but once it went on sale it spiked above everyone else, so I said, this might just work out. And then that JGB on Sunday, I was hesitant about doing it because it was March and it could still be freezing cold out. I waited until ten days out to book the third show, so I looked at my ten-day weather map and knew it was going to be nice out. But I did have to wait. It was a calculated gamble. It actually led all of the pre-sales, and then we sold another twenty-five that morning and everybody showed up. We hadn’t had a paid show here yet so I thought everybody would be bitching at the door but everybody said ten bucks, no problem. Then I realized they could just stand out there and watch it (outside of the fence), but they wanted to be in on the party. If there were any people just standing out there I went out and brought them in.